By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Talk about making a great first impression. With Jeff Davis as their new coach last year, the Bolivar Liberators wrestling team raged its way to a state-runner-up finish in Class 2 – the highest finish in school history.
Fortunately, it’s not been all steak and lobster and fattening up ever since.
“I think that accomplishing this feet made these young men hungrier to get better in an attempt to improve that finish,” said Davis, who had previously coached at Park Hill in Kansas City and spent 15 seasons at Waynesville. “There are six to seven teams that can probably win state trophies in Class 2 with everyone chasing the defending state champion Monett.”
Bolivar’s room should have about 30 wrestlers this season, including seven returning state qualifiers – three who brought home hardware.
The headliner, of course, is Hayden Burks, who finished 54-0 and became Bolivar’s second state wrestling champion in program history.
“He continues to look at getting better by winning a loaded freestyle state tournament bracket this spring and also making the Team Missouri Junior National Dual team in Greco-Roman/Freestyle – and making the All-Tournament team in Freestyle,” Davis said. “It is my hope that he continues his winning ways and leads our program to our first ever state team title in wrestling. Hayden has gained interest from many D-I and D-II schools across the country.”
The projected roster features: junior Canyon Cunningham (113), sophomores Tommy Pennington and Logan Rice at 120 and 126, senior Riley Hawk at 132, freshman Riley Beckman at 138 and seniors Jacon Matlock and Austin Coons at 145 and 152.
In the upper weights, look for freshmen Jesse Fields and Cael McCullah at 170, junior Andrew Bunn (182), senior Gared Engle (195) and juniors Drayton Huchteman and Jack Rowten at 220 and 285. The 106-pound weight class likely will have inexperienced freshmen.
Coons and Huchteman were state runners-up last year, when Cunningham placed sixth. Hawk is a three-time state qualifier, and Bunn also qualified for state.
Coons is a three-time state runner-up, actually. He was 43-5 last year after medaling at 120 and 106 the previous two seasons.
“It is my hope that this year (Coons) breaks through and wins his first state championship in his final year of high school,” Davis said. “Austin has worked hard this offseason and wrestled a ton. I expect that effort to help boost him to the top of the podium this year.”
Huchteman finished second in his first state tournament experience and had 36 wins last year.
“Drayton wrestled all spring and summer, gaining more experience against the nation’s top 220-pound wrestlers,” Davis said. “He won the cadet freestyle state tournament and placed second in Greco-Roman, and that earned him a spot on the Cadet National Dual team in Spokane, Washington. Drayton also went to the Cadet National tournament in Fargo North Dakota.”
Cunningham also competed all across the Midwest this past summer.
“I fully expect him to see him on the top of the podium in February,” Davis said.
Hawk was 2-2 at state and lost in the placing match to the eventual third-place finisher.
“I believe that Riley is on a mission to win at state championship, and it would not surprise me in the least to see him in that mix of guys in February,” Davis said.
Matlock was fourth at the district tournament and earned a win at state. Bunn was a state qualifier as a 168-pounder in the 182-pound weight class and has dedicated his offseason to the weight room.
Among the so-called “sleepers” on the roster are Rice, Engle, Beckman and Rowten.
For Bolivar, one of the most challenging parts of the schedule is the Red Schmidt Invitational in Granite City, Ill., which has numerous nationally ranked teams and wrestlers.
Meanwhile, Bolivar is hoping to have a girls team, but Davis is unsure of the number who will compete.